237 | Good-Bye, Sniper! Hello, Tom!

August 9, 2012
Thursday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #237: Good-Bye, Sniper! Hello, Tom!


Dear Family,

If you had the privilege of spending the day with someone—anyone—you chose, whom would you choose? Would you want that person to spend lots of time with you?

How about … Would you mind if that person shared the privacy of your bathroom with you? Would you pick someone different then?

As you know, it wasn’t my choice to have Donovan “Sniper” Lizarazu as a cellmate—I did the staff a favor by accepting him instead of the guy I’d requested. Knowing God is in control is the only way to have any kind of peace when it seems as if nothing is going your way. He knows best, and I can see how God used my time with Sniper to benefit my life.

But it wasn’t easy.

Besides being incredibly, incredibly selfish, Sniper kept sporting his true colors, often using profanity when upset and lashing out in anger. He stopped attending our church services, although he kept attending Buddhist services with his little buddy, Danny.

He’d get frustrated if someone stopped by to ask me something, yet he was always asking if I’d stay out in the dayroom so he could have friends over to play games in the cell.

When I wanted to watch a church program on Sunday mornings, he was upset because I hadn’t left the cell at the 7:00 a.m. unlock (we get a 5-minute unlock at the top of the hour from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.; we get a one-way in available at the bottom of each hour, from 7:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.). He was so upset that he told me he wasn’t going to change his plans: doing laundry that couldn’t wait an hour and listening to his music, played at top volume. (Mind you, I’m out of the cell from 8–10 a.m., then 1–3 p.m., then 6–8 p.m. on Sundays.) I told him that was fine; meanwhile, I watched the church service with my headphones on. Sniper made sure he didn’t compromise on volume.

The next Sunday, he told me right at 7:00 that he had to use the toilet, which, though I have a privacy curtain and we get unlimited flushes, meant I needed to step out. I did, and I even got the officer to reopen my door after 10 minutes of Sniper supposedly using the restroom. (I normally bring out my Day Planner and my Bible, but he’d rushed me out, so I had nothing to do.)

I knew the worship part of the service was almost over, but I still wanted to hear the preaching. Sniper told the officer to shut the door, that he wasn’t done, and then kept the “Bathroom in Use” sign up in the window just past the bottom of the hour, 20 minutes later, so that I couldn’t go back inside until 8:00, which I did, rushing to get ready during the 5-minute unlock, so I could go to church. It was just Sniper’s way of being selfish and of getting his way.

Well, gratefully, a few days later someone moved out of our pod, and Sniper moved into that person’s vacated bunk, leaving me with the opportunity for a new cellie! (Follow all of that?)  🙂

The unit staff was so sorry that they had put Sniper in with me, telling me how great he was and how similar they thought we were. This time, they let me choose.

I’d prayed about it, especially since cellies are a big part of doing time. I’ve had 20 cellies in the past 4½ years—some for a couple of days, others nearly a year or longer, from every race and ranging from 18–55 years old, some doing life in prison, and several already released by now.

I usually become great friends with my cellies—something about the extreme fun of owning the same set of bunk beds in the same bathroom as another human being really resonates with me. (My future wife will have to be okay with bunk beds in our guest bathroom for when I have friends over.)

Well, I requested my close friend, Tom—no nickname—to be my cellie. He’s in his late 40s and is a kind-hearted, mild-mannered former schoolteacher fluent in several languages, and he is an incredible cook with hot pot and microwave: Indian, Mexican, Italian, Asian … he takes state food, combines it with food from his care packages, and—wow.

I’m blessed to be in a no-stress living situation again, preparing another guy to parole successfully. Tom goes home in one year.

Thank you for praying!